HHS Appointees and Health IT: What to Expect from the New Administration

by | May 6, 2021

A change in presidential administration always comes with a wave of new appointees in the cabinet and its departments. However, in certain key areas, government officials from the previous administration remain in their roles and continue their work despite the shift in power. It is clear that the Biden administration is looking to enact dramatic policy reforms, not the least of which will revolve around the American healthcare system. Take a look at these current cabinet officials, both newly appointed and those who have stayed on, and their potential impact on the health IT landscape. 

  1. Micky Tripathi, PhD – HHS, ONC, National Coordinator for Information Technology

Micky was one of the Biden team’s first appointments, named to his new role on Inauguration Day. The fact that an interoperability expert and health IT veteran was one of this administration’s priority appointees signals the importance of addressing the country’s ongoing data management challenges. 

Described as a standards-based interoperability expert, Tripathi’s pre-HITECH advocacy for adopting electronic health records (EHRs) via his work a the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative led him to work closely with the ONC. He served as Co-Chair of the HIT Policy and Standards Committee’s JASON task force in 2013/14, which was established to develop a response to the issues presented in the November 2013 JASON report decrying the state of healthcare IT in the United State.

Micky is also no stranger to the startup world, serving on the boards of a number of independent health IT organizations like Arcadia.io, HL7, CommonWell, and Datica prior to this appointment. In an interview last year, he stressed the importance of wrangling data as a way to ease the burdens on patients and providers alike. His appointment sends clear signals that doing away with many outdated forms of infoblocking will be of utmost importance to this administration – one of the few healthcare policies that will be continued from the pervious administration.

Key highlights:

  • 20+ years of HIT experience
  • Early proponent of FHIR adoption
  • Co-Chair of 2014 JASON Task Force
  • Board of Dir: Arcadia.io, CommonWell Health Alliance, HL7 FHIR Foundation, Sequoia Project
  1. Perryn Ashmore, HHS, CIO

Perryn Ashmore is a 7 year veteran of the HHS, having joined the organization in July 2014. As of December 2020, Ashmore was officially elevated to the role of CIO for all of HHS, a role he had been filling since September. Stepping into his post as both CIO and CDO of HHS, he took over for his predecessor Jose Arrieta last year and has been vocal about the need for improved data security and AI development and oversight. 

In 2020, Ashmore helped with transitioning the department to be a more active part of national emergency responses. We all know how much confusion there has been about the aggregation of reliable COVID statistics, and streamlining the federal ability to respond to future national health emergencies will be a major focus.

A believer in the tremendous amount of insights and innovation that can be unlocked from new data resources, he is also pragmatic about the security and potential problems with what and how data is currently collected, used and stored. We can therefore expect substantial advocacy for implementing consistent standards to enable greater interoperability, but also increased scrutiny of how the data is being utilized.

An Air Force veteran with 30 years of federal service under his belt, he has made it clear that American digital security will be strengthened under his watch. In January 2021, he also appointed the first-ever Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer, Oki Mek, stating “This is the first step in our recognition of the importance of AI in future technology deliveries.” 

Key highlights:

  • Manages HHS’s $6.3B IT portfolio 
  • Responsible for successful implementation of Enterprise Human Capital Management, the department’s upgraded HR program
  • Led and implemented app modernization for the FCC and its citizen-facing processes
  • Replaces Jose Arrieta, who oversaw the controversial Trump administration COVID data reporting requirement change, placing responsibility on HHS and not CDC for pandemic data
  1. Oki Mek, Chief AI Officer

After an eight-year stint as an IT contractor with the Department of Energy, Oki Mek has spent the last ten years with HHS. Recently serving in a role as senior adviser to the department’s CIO before being elevated to Chief AI Officer, Mek has been an advocate for increased usage of AI and ML within the department, as well as partnering with both small and large businesses to address governmental needs. 

He’ll be responsible for a variety of goals, some of which pertain to last year’s executive order, “Promoting the Use of Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence in the Federal Government.” These responsibilities will include “an annual inventory of AI use cases, participation on interagency bodies for advancing AI, and review[ing] existing AI systems to ensure consistency with this order,” Ashmore said after Mek’s appointment. 

Modernizing the department will be an emerging focus of Mek’s work. Ensuring that the government’s processes and data are being handled in safe, efficient ways is a growing need, and his appointment signals the administration’s ongoing efforts to address that. 

Key highlights:

  • Served as CTO for HHS’s acquisitions division
  • Wants to use AI and blockchain to expedite certain government process from 8-12 months to 3-4 weeks
  • Believes in the efficacy of partnering with industry to see the best results
  • Aligns goals for AI with those of Executive Order 13589: ensure public engagement, limit regulatory overreach, and promote trustworthy technology. 
  1. Andrea Norris, NIH, CIO

A ten-year veteran of the National Institutes of Health, Norris is another holdover from the Trump administration, but has long been working for the federal government, helping establish effective IT systems and services at both the NSF and NASA prior to her transition to the NIH. She is currently at the helm of the STRIDES Initiative, which is aimed at partnering with cloud computing giants like Google and Amazon to “provide a cost-effective way for biomedical researchers at NIH-funded institutions to access rich datasets and the most advanced computational infrastructure, tools, and services” offered by commercial partners. 

Serving also as the Director for the Center for Information Technology, she is responsible for overseeing the high-performance scientific computing system ranked as “one of the top supercomputers in the world” and a diverse array of powerful IT services. Expect her to continue her work in bringing data and researchers together via cloud computing, as well as emphasizing the importance of data security and privacy. 

Key highlights:

  • Runs the STRIDES Initiative, aiming to partner with cloud giants to increase research potential
  • Managed NASA’s $2B IT portfolio
  • Oversees some of the more powerful network infrastructure and computing systems in government
  • In her role at NSF, was responsible for overseeing its strategies, policies, programs, and managing its IT services
  1. Rajiv Uppal, CMS CIO

Rajiv Uppal has opined on the value and need for greater human centered design from the healthcare industry to make tools and consumer offerings more accessible – and actually usable. He comes from over 25 years of experience in enterprise software development and managing IT systems. His new role at CMS will entail a wide swath of IT responsibilities, including security and privacy, enterprise architecture, and investment management. 

Mr Uppal is also a big proponent of collaboration across organizations in order to apply more agile principles to the roll out of vetted, effective technologies at the federal level. Prior to joining CMS, he was with the Department of Homeland Security, tasked with transforming its initiatives in a similar fashion. 

Key highlights:

  • Priorities will include modernization, cybersecurity, and CMS employee upskilling
  • Will be part of deciding how to implement CMS’s $2.7B technology budget
  • Says his focus will be more on generating outcomes that meet customer needs
  • Has created multiple technology platforms adopted by industry leaders like IBM
  1. Lina Khan – Commissioner of the FTC

Until recently, Ms Khan was an Associate Law Professor at Columbia University, where she specialized in IP and antitrust law. She is well known for a thesis she wrote while pursuing her JD at Yale titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” which in just 4 years has already racked up almost 800 citations. In that paper, she argues that traditional antitrust laws need to be reformed for the modern era, where price effects are no longer an adequate arbiter for anti-competitive behavior. As she put it, “[T]he current framework in antitrust…is unequipped to capture the market power in the modern economy.”

Given The Hill’s recent anti-Silicon Valley sentiment, and voters’ clearly growing distrust of tech giants after Facebook’s repeated abuses of consumer privacy expectations, it is somewhat surprising that she has received the warm welcome that she has so far enjoyed. But this highlights the bipartisan concerns around the ascension of giants like Amazon to exalted positions in the world economy. If she is confirmed, it suggests that the current administration is serious about antitrust enforcement in a way that hasn’t been the case in decades. 

Key highlights:

  • Received an unconventionally warm hearing for an antitrust-centric commissioner, which goes against historic GOP principles around market regulation
  • Continues the Biden administration’s pattern of appointing tech critics for regulatory roles, joining Tim Wu on the National Economic Council and Vanita Gupta in the Justice Department.
  • If confirmed, she will be the youngest ever commissioner on the FTC
  • Wants to replace outdated “consumer welfare” standard of antitrust, under which harm is determined based solely on rising prices.


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